The everyday self is created by compulsivity or lack of freedom – if the compulsion were taken away then there would be no more self. What we are saying here is simply that the self can only exist within the context of the game. Wherever we are ruled by compulsion then that situation is a game.
Games are created by assuming something quite unwarranted – we assume that such and such an outcome is absolutely unacceptable and that the complimentary outcome is absolutely mandatory. These two outcomes are complementary opposites therefore and thus polarity has been introduced into the situation. Polarity is by its very nature ‘compulsive’ as we know from studying magnets – the north pole repels all other north pole and attracts all south poles, and both ‘repulsion’ and ‘attraction’ – obviously enough – equal compulsion.
Our assumptions are ‘quite unwarranted’ because – ultimately – they’re not in the least bit true, because they’re not based on anything. Or as we could also say, they’re only true because we say that they are. So one outcome is designated as being ‘absolutely unacceptable’ whilst the other is said to be ‘absolutely essential’, but that is only the case because we have set it up to be so. There is no such thing as ‘an absolutely unacceptable situation’ on its own, in other words – the situation can only ‘unacceptable’ in relation to a particular predefined viewpoint. The situation has to be unacceptable to someone, after all – the situation is ‘unacceptable to the one who does not accept it’!
This is another way of saying that they can be no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without there being someone for it to be good or bad for – if I say that such an outcome is bad then I mean of course it is ‘bad for me’, or ‘bad in relation to the particular point of view that I am operated operating from.’ Something can be good and bad to me at the same time – if I’m a recovering alcoholic and one day I discover a full bottle of whiskey hidden under the sofa, then from the point of view of the addiction this is of course a good outcome. From any other point of view the same discovery a very bad one, since it could also easily mark my descent back into the horrors of addiction.
All definite designations are therefore projections of a specific viewpoint that has been adopted and then forgotten about positively; all such designations actually are that same viewpoint, projected out onto the world as if they belong there. The more ‘psychologically unconscious’ we are then the more it seems to us that they do belong out there. When I am unconscious then good and bad have an absolutely independent existence for me in the real world – in no way do I perceive them to be my own projections. To be immersed in a game, and should be completely at the mercy of the compulsivity inherent in that game, is to be ‘psychologically unconscious’ in other words. To be trapped in a polarity is to be psychologically unconscious.
When we talk about ‘the polarity of good and bad’ we’re not really talking about the two possible outcomes on their own therefore, we are talking about the one to whom these two complimentary viewpoints seem to be good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, etc. Polarity can be seen as these two mutually-exclusive outcomes but really is the fixed viewpoint which gives rise to the perception of them as an actual reality. Polarity isn’t so much the two poles of ‘absolutely desirable’ and ‘absolutely unacceptable’ as it is ‘the one who projects these two designations, these two evaluations’.
What this is saying, in very simple terms, is that ‘polarity equals the self’. Polarity equals the self and the polarity equals ‘compulsion’ or ‘compulsivity’. This brings us back therefore to our initial statement that ‘compulsivity creates the self’ only now we have refined this a bit to say that compulsivity actually is the self. When there is a situation where one outcome is attractive and must be strived for and where the complimentary outcome is repellent and must be strived against, then this is the situation of the self! The self is striving, the self is yearning, the self is hoping and fearing. Or we could also say, the self is controlling – when all controlling is dropped then so too is the self. My sense of defined identity is brought about by my ‘narrow efforts’, my narrow efforts to attain a goal that makes sense to that identity. It might sound rather odd to say this but all we’re saying is that the self always has to be orientated within the framework of right and wrong.
If we take away the framework (it is redundant to say ‘the framework of right and wrong’ because all frameworks are made up of right and wrong) then there will no longer be a sense of self – there will no longer be ‘a sense of self’ because there is no longer this fundamental symmetry of good and bad, right and wrong. There is no longer the possibility of either improvement or disimprovement. It doesn’t make sense – generally speaking – for us to hear something like this; we imagine that once we have improved ourselves in the correct way, and finally ‘got it right’, then we can forget about all this correcting, all this fixing, all this controlling, all this striving to get it right not wrong, but this just isn’t so. Without the belief or perception that there is a possibility for improvement of this improvement, getting it right or wrong, there can be no self.
This isn’t the way we see things at all however, as we have just said. We see the ideal situation for the self as being that situation where there is no longer any onerous need for us to keep on striving to improve ourselves because we have already ‘got it right’ – we believe that we if we strive hard enough then we can finally reach ‘the place of no more striving’, or that if we control effectively enough we will reach that happy situation where no more troublesome controlling is needed. This is our ultimate goal – the goal of not needing to have any more goals! As James Carse says, at this point we are supremely victorious in our play; we are so victorious that we will no longer need to prove ourselves ever again. Our portrait is hanging in the Hall of Fame – the title of ‘Winner’ is now ours forever.
In our controlling, we are working in order to get to the point where we don’t have to work any further, as Gurdjieff says, and so the glittering lure that draws us ever onwards is this supposed situation where the self can ‘rest on its laurels’ and eternally enjoy the glory that it has won fairly for itself. This lure is a very odd thing however – it’s a very odd thing because it’s something that could never exist. We’re chasing after a mirage but it’s not the type of mirage we might see in the desert (where we might catch sight of a pool of tranquil waters surrounded by graceful palm trees) because what we’re chasing isn’t something that ‘isn’t there but which theoretically could be’ – what were chasing is something that doesn’t exist and never could do. We are in pursuit of a goal which is ‘an impossible phantom’ – the impossible phantom being a self that is forever justified, a self which is no longer insecure, a self which doesn’t have to keep on trying to improve (or redeem) its situation.
We may think that it is perfectly possible to be a self and yet not be constantly ‘striving to improve our situation’, but if we were to look a bit more deeply into the matter we would see that even a lazy and unmotivated ego/self is always striving – if nothing else then we have to strive to keep ourselves entertained because without constant entertainment or distraction we would straightaway start to perceive the painful sterility of our situation. So instead of saying that ‘the fixed sense of identity always needs to be striving’ we could instead say that it always needs to be seeking distraction. The pursuit of distraction contains two possibilities (or ‘two poles’) – successful and unsuccessful self-distraction. The first possibility brings pleasure and the second pain and the nature of this polarity is – needless to say – compulsive. Unsuccessful self-destruction is something that we absolutely need to run away from!
Being entertained or distracted is a task in other words and tasks are always polarities – we either succeed at them or we fail, and this is a situation with no freedom in it. We can say that ‘completing the task’ is the game that we are playing, but this is serious play. Serious player is play that we don’t know to be play; it is the seriousness with which we take it that traps us in it. ‘Being entertained’ might seem a great thing, and often it might feel like a great thing, but when this is ‘one half of the compulsive polarity’ it is not clearly not a great thing after all. It’s a trap, and what is so great about a trap? What’s so great about having no freedom?
The polarity of right/wrong, win/lose, pleasure/pain is a trap because the terms are absolute – ‘absolute’ meaning that we can’t see beyond them. The absolute or final nature of these terms is a function of the ‘definiteness’ or ‘rigidity’ of our assumed POV and the definiteness of our assumed viewpoint is only definite in the way that it is because we have assumed it (which is to say, it is definite only because we have said that it is, only because we have put this central limitation in place. The ‘absoluteness’ of right/wrong only exists in relation to the viewpoint that we have identified with and so what this means is that it is the viewpoint itself that is a trap and not anything else. The trap is the fixed viewpoint which is the self and so it’s no good for the self to either try to run away or achieve a lot of great things in order to escape from its painfully limited or constricted nature.
It’s no good for us to try to run away from the pain that’s living inside us as a result of us being trapped in the ‘virtual space of the polarity’, just it is no good for us to try to escape this pain through our ‘glorious achieving’ because both the urge to escape and the urge to achieve (or improve ourselves) equal ‘the compulsivity of the polarity’. In the first case we have the polarity of ‘escape versus not-escape’ and in the second case we have the polarity of ‘achieve versus fail’. We’re always playing the same game therefore. We can’t escape from the prison of the mind (or the prison of the self) by purposeful action – purposeful action ‘perpetuates the polarity’ too since there are now the two narrow and mutually-exclusive possibilities of ‘attaining the purpose’ and ‘failing to attain the purpose’, both of which equal the thinking mind, both of which equal ‘the game of the self’.